Study: Bronze Age Iron Weapons, Tools Were Made of Metal from Meteorites

Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

A new study has revealed that many of the mysterious iron objects in use before the Iron Age were likely products of harvested meteorites.

With the aid of an “X-ray fluorescence spectrometer,” the National Centre for Scientific Research’s Albert Jambon scanned artifacts from China, Egypt, Syria, and Turkey. In every case, the artifacts contained high amounts of nickel, all but proving their extra-terrestrial origin. According to Jambon, “the present results complementing high quality analyses from the literature suggest that most or all irons from the Bronze Age are derived from meteoritic iron.”

Because nickel drifted away from iron near the Earth’s surface and toward the core as the planet was formed, Earth-bound iron does not contain such high concentrations of the metal — making it relatively easy, with the new equipment, to divine the origin of these objects. Humanity would not advance sufficiently to smelt its own iron from ore for centuries — if not millenia — after many of these artifacts were originally created, lending them a long-time air of mystery.

While this new information helps to answer questions regarding the origin of the objects themselves, it also provides us with clues to an even greater question: When, precisely, did the Iron Age begin? We know that the Bronze Age began sometime around 3300 BCE, and that iron would not be refined for another 2,000 years.

With the help of the X-ray fluorescence spectrometer, scientists will be able to examine tools from different periods, in hopes of more accurately pinpointing the beginning of iron smelting technology. Jambon said that the “next step” will be to “determine where and when terrestrial iron smelting appeared for the first time.”

The research was published in the Journal of Archaeological Science. Jambon said that this research “emphasizes the importance of analytical methods for properly studying the evolution of the use of metals and metal working technologies in our past cultures.”

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